Posted by admin in August 4th, 2021
Published in Uncategorized

Cockroaches crawling on me woke me up. I felt little tickles on my arms and face. I shot out of bed slapping myself all over. I started gasping. I hate cockroaches. I HATE THEM! I turned on the light and there were dozens of them scampering out of sight.

Knowing God’s will and doing God’s will are often two completely different things. I always fancied myself a brave pony soldier who was willing to go anywhere God called me and do anything He called me to do. Imagine my surprise when I started looking for an escape hatch, or better yet, an exit strategy, to get me out of my commitment to Moscow. I just kept thinking, “There’s gotta be a way out of this.”

Teaching in Russia was my long-time dream. I actually got a master’s degree for the sole purpose of teaching in Moscow. I talked about my burden for Russia to anyone who would listen. I even had a hand-painted banner taped to the wall of my apartment, “Moscow, Fall ’91.” It was an obsession—a divine obsession.

An opportunity to interview for a job in Moscow was nothing short of miraculous. I’d just graduated one week earlier and then got on a PanAm flight heading to Moscow. Doors were opening for me and my dream was finally coming true.

I was going to be in Moscow, Fall 1991!

We landed at Domodedovo in Moscow. I called it “Dome of the Devil” because it was the worst airport in the entire world. A nice married couple met me at the airport, Natasha and Gerrig. They drove me to the prophylactorium. For those of us unfamiliar with that term, it means a hospital for preventive medicine or a sanitorium. That’s where the university put me up for my stay.

The first thing that hit me when I walked into the small room was the medicinal smell of a worn-out disinfectant. The foul smell often found in elementary school bathrooms—a combination of Pinesol, stale water, and urine.

The bathroom was filthy. The walls were stained with human waste and the water ran rusty from the faucet. Tiles had fallen into the bathtub covered in dirt and rusty stains. There was a small balcony just off the plate glass window.  A whirlwind had formed on the balcony and in the debris I saw several used condoms and cigarette butts.

The sheets were clean, but everything else was filthy. The floor was dirty. The chair was dirty. The curtains were dirty. I was afraid to touch anything. How was I going to survive four days in this place?

The 13-hour flight had been a tough one. PanAm was going out of business. The underpaid flight attendants didn’t care about the passengers. They let people smoke the entire flight – the plane was filled with a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. The food service ran out; people who didn’t get a meal were very angry.

I was looking forward to a shower, but once I saw the prophylactory bathroom, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I used bottled water to brush my teeth. I looked in the mirror and thought about brushing my hair before the interview, and then thought, “Who cares?”

The dirty room was oppressive and I was exhausted—the combination was deadly and suddenly, teaching in Moscow didn’t seem so important anymore.  

This is the far side of miracles. This is the dark side of obedience. I’ve got a friend who serves in Africa, and one night she woke up to a rat chewing on her toe. I’m in awe of godly men and women who serve in nations where poisonous snakes in the kitchen is a daily occurrence, or being held at knife point by nationals—the very people they’d come to help—is common. Serving God and saying yes to anything He asks, can have an ugly underbelly. I’d lived through five years in China, but during my time there, God had blinded me to dirt and inconveniences. I thrived in that environment, but this time, maybe because I was older, or perhaps I’d romanticized Russia, the harsh conditions were weighing on me. I think most Americans never knew that Russia was a Third World country disguised as a Super Power.

My interview with the university was going to be in two parts: Part I was the afternoon of my arrival. If everything went well, I’d have interview Part II with the rector the next day.

A few minutes before the interview, Dr. Olga Ganaziva, the chairwoman of the foreign languages department, came to get me and escort me across the street. There was a committee hosting the interview: Dr. Ganaziva, the head of the foreign affairs, who asked me to “just call him Sasha”, his secretary, and two professors from the department. We had tea and cookies. The meeting was friendly and informal. They asked basic questions, “What can I teach? What is my teaching philosophy? Why do I want to teach in Russia?”

Every question was irrelevant, because what these people didn’t realize was that when I left Moscow in a few days—I WAS NEVER COMING BACK.

Fortunately, the university where I’d gone to grad school offered me a full-time job teaching. My department chair actually said, “If things don’t work out over there, you’ve got a job here in the fall.”  I secretly hoped God would at least give me credit for trying. No one would blame me. Besides, the Soviet Union was falling a part and there were rumors of a collapse. God wasn’t going to hold me to this. All I had to do was get through the next few days.

The next morning, after the cockroach infested nightmare, I met with the rector. I was led into his office which was an elegant paneled room with an enormous painting of Lenin. When I walked into the room, I think my mouth was open. I’d never seen a portrait that big in an office. It was gigantic. The rector mistook my shock for admiration and with a very thick Russian accent he said, “This picture of Lenin will never come down.” Uh, okay. That was irrelevant to me.

He asked me to sit and he explained the terms of the contract. I guess the committee decided to hire me even though no one said, “You’ve got the job.” The rector went over my salary and how many hours I’d be expected to teach each week.  As he was talking, I just kept thinking, “I’m not coming back.” I decided to throw out ridiculous terms to him as a counter offer so that when he said, “no” to them, I could tell all the folks back home that I simply didn’t get the job.

For example, the salary. I told the rector that the salary wasn’t enough. He asked, “How much do you want?”

I asked, “How much do you get paid?”

“Six hundred rubles a month.”

“Excellent, I’d like to be paid that.”

Without hesitation he said, Yes.

I gave him a list of my demands, certain that he’d choke and throw me out of his office. PLEASE THROW ME OUT OF YOUR OFFICE.

I wanted free hot meals each day at the cafeteria. I wanted the university to provide me with an apartment, a Russian tutor, a public transportation pass, and to cover my round-trip airfare. These were impossible terms and yet, the rector said yes to each and every one of them.

I was devastated. He was happy.

We shook hands and I walked slowly back to the prophylactory. What had just happened?

I flew into Moscow from America, but my return ticket was Helsinki to America. I wanted to travel by train to Helsinki and see some of my old friends.

It was finally time to leave Moscow and Olga Ganaziva was taking me to the train station.  Dr. Ganaziva was severe. She wore her hair pulled straight back in a tight bun. She had piercing blue eyes. She was beautiful and elegant. She and her husband were Communist Party members. She was Soviet through and through. She was not only an intellectual, Olga Ganaziva had plenty of street smarts.

I boarded the train and hung out the window talking to Olga and waiting for the train to start moving. Suddenly, Olga grabbed my wrist with a vice grip and she looked straight into my eyes—hers blue and piercing, “Do not change your mind Teresa. Do you understand me? You cannot change your mind! We need you here.” The train started to pull out of the station and she held on tightly, “Promise me! Promise me you’ll be back in the fall.” And I did. I promised her. I’d do anything just to get her to let go of my wrist.

But a promise is a promise and her words haunted me day after day; night after night. “We need you here.” And so, I had to toughen up and get right with God. “Lord Jesus, You saw that place and You know me. Please change my heart and my attitude. I need You.”

I was ashamed to tell anyone how frightened I was about returning to Moscow. The university “apartment” they promised was actually the same room in the prophylactory. I was really struggling, so I did what I always did in those situations—I went to my big sister Cindy and my brother-in-law Mike. Together we put a plan into action: colorful contact paper from Target (thank you Cindy); bug spray, several cans of Comet, my brother-in-law showed me how to tape up a window with packing tape to keep out the vermin. Several dispensers of packing tape, scented candles, room spray, a shower curtain, and a small rug were added to my luggage. I would make that little prophylactory mine!

I landed in Moscow in the fall of 1991. The uprising had already started and though many feared it would end in a blood bath, it did not. My Dad was fearful of me going and I understood his feelings. There were tanks on the streets of Moscow and the Russian White House was burning. Shortages of food were being reported on the nightly news.

One night, as I was packing for my big move, my Dad came to my room, “I forbid you to go! I forbid you to go to Moscow.”

“All right,” I said back to him. “The Bible tells me to honor you. I’m not married so I think you are my covering, or my boss, so if you tell me that I cannot go to Moscow, I’ll obey you. But let me say this, one day we will stand before Jesus and He’ll ask me, ‘Why didn’t you go to Moscow?’ and I’ll say, ‘Because I was honoring my father.’ What will you say Dad? When Jesus asks you why I didn’t go? I’ll do whatever you tell me to do, but you’d better be certain it’s God’s will and not your own.”

My Dad went upstairs to my parent’s room and he was there about four hours. I think he was praying. Finally, he came back down to my room and with tears rolling down his face he said, “I’d rather you die in the center of God’s will than live safely outside it. You are free to go to Moscow.”

And I went and it was the most wonderful time of my life. As the Soviet Union crumbled, people in crisis were looking for a new basis for hope. In response to this breakdown in society, my university asked me to help with religious instruction for all the students. I was allowed to show The Jesus Film to the entire campus. I held all-campus lectures where I told students my personal testimony of how Christ changed my life. It was an amazing time to be there. I’m so grateful God gave me the opportunity to minister in Moscow during those years. Not only did I get to meet Rev. Billy Graham in Moscow, but was asked to be the assistant to Joni Eareckson Tada as she toured Moscow and spoke on the rights of the disabled. I met Larnelle Harris in Gorky Park as he gave a free concert on warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. But the most important thing, I met Anna and Daniel Ritzmann in Moscow. The Ritzmanns worked for the Swiss Embassy. They were strong Christians with generous hearts and gracious spirits. Anna Ritzmann became my very best friend. That love and friendship has lasted 30 years through thick and thin, across two continents, with babies and the passing of parents; we have hundreds of wonderful memories together. If I hadn’t gone to Moscow in the fall  of 1991, I would have missed out on one of the most important relationships of my life. Thank You Lord for doing exceedingly and abundantly above anything I could think or ask! I love you Anna Ritzmann!

I’m so glad I kept my promise to Olga Ganaziva, but I’m especially glad I kept my promise to the Lord.

We never regret the things we do for God, responding to His call and to His will because these are the things that are eternal. This is the treasure that will never wear out. These are the things that really matter most. And no matter what, time and time again, God shows that we simply cannot out give Him! Peace.


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58900. c.rough said,
August 5th, 2021 at 8:12 pm

Thank you for taking me to Russia with you!!
I really think you should write a book, sharing all your stories. So many things happen as you share. I go to the places with you. I see and experience God in these places. I get to see God working in and through you in amazing ways. It’s beautiful.
Thanks again for sharing these Good stories with us.

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